Since I’ve lived in California, I’ve seen trumpet swans, red-winged blackbirds, honest-to-God blue birds, and a bunch of the most kick-ass crows imaginable. I barely have to leave my porch to feel as though I’ve died and gone to the great aviary in the sky.
I’ve been thinking about feathers today — grey ones, and crimson ones; ebony hues and the breath-taking gold of a hummingbird that hovers near the neighbor’s RV.
Between bill-paying, client-emailing, and coffee-stirring, I spent a half-hour groping for words to explain why everyone should be empathetic to a bunch of strangers on Facebook this morning, all of whom seem intent on castigating me because of what they perceive to be my arrogance as a “white” person in the face of their oppression as “black” people or their enlightenment and willingness to make amends, in the case of several people who self-identified as “white”. I totally understand the concept of “white privilege” and “black oppression”. I acknowledge the impact of discrimination. I firmly believe that bigotry has not abated and thrives. But I personally have not done anything of the sort. So. Tell me again why birds of a feather are required to flock together?
I put aside that chain of abuse and read again an e-mail that I sent to someone explaining why Holocaust jokes are not my cup of tea. Holocaust jokes. I mean, seriously? Browse my blogs, people; do you see anything in what I write to suggest that I would find Holocaust jokes amusing? What on earth! I’m not even sure why Holocaust jokes exist. What type of person would ever find the relentless slaughter of millions of people because of their religious affiliation to be an appropriate subject for humor? I just shook my head. But then I turned back to the page of comments from people saying I should make reparation because I’m part of a “race” of people who oppressed another “race” of people and that asking for everyone to show empathy for each other might be over the top.
I pour another cup of coffee and realize that I’m caught between two worlds. I’m not a bigot; nor do I perceive myself as better than anyone else; and I’ve worked hard since age 12 and have got not much to show for it, so I consider myself a step or two ahead of just getting by. I don’t really see myself as privileged or entitled, even though I know that as a “white” person, I do not have to face the prejudice that “black” people have to face, so I’m not complaining. And as a “Christian” (eh) or let’s say, “a non-Jewish person”, I did not descend from people who faced extermination in Europe during the Holocaust.
I get how lucky I am on all of these counts, relating to access to resources, survival, and fair treatment. But then, I try to get into an office building with a door far too heavy for me as a disabled person and I think, “Tell me again how lucky I am?” while I wait for a kind passerby, which takes about fifteen minutes. I park in a handicapped spot and I’m grateful for that space, but it’s a half-block away from the curb cut because they presume that I’ll be in a wheelchair probably being pushed. I can’t step onto the curb without risk of falling so I walk the distance, getting winded and sweaty.
There are all kinds of obstacles to success in the world. But fortunately, nobody will shoot me because I’m disabled. . . though Hitler did, in fact, include disabled people in the Holocaust now that I think of it. So I stand by my conviction: We all should exercise empathy towards each other, regardless of the color of our feathers; or whether or not we can fly.
I go out onto the porch and remind myself that human relations defy easy understanding. A mourning dove lands on the railing and we eye each other from a respectful three-foot distance. When the bird flies back to the tree, I think we’ve reached an accord but it might take another cup of coffee for me to be able to articulate what it is.
It’s the twenty-third day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.